Smartphones are no longer a commodity and they are essentially the fourth basic need after food, clothing and shelter. We have reached a stage in smartphones where you just cannot go wrong. Whether you buy a cheap smartphone or the most expensive one, there is something for everyone. In India, the fastest growing smartphone market, sales are still inclined towards the entry-level and mid-range smartphone segment and this has forced smartphone makers to launch new products at regular intervals of time.
Most consumers, according to research and analyst reports, have bought smartphones in the sub-Rs 20,000 price segment. However, there is a divide in this fledgling smartphone industry and it has got more to do with the retail channel than smartphone model or smartphone makers themselves. A smartphone available online tends to cost at least a few thousand rupees more in the offline channel, owing to the cost of maintaining inventory and setting up distribution channels.
While Xiaomi is the market leader and biggest player in the online segment, it is Chinese manufacturers such as Oppo and Vivo that command a stronger brand value in the offline retail segment. One of the recent developments in the Indian smartphone market is the launch of a new brand called Realme. This former subsidiary of Oppo is taking a page out of Xiaomi’s playbook and replicating its success one product at a time.
While Realme sells its smartphones only in the online retail channel for now, Oppo seems to be planning to bring those devices to offline market under its own brand. The first such device is the Oppo A7, which at least on paper, seems like the re-branded version of the Realme 2. So at a price of Rs 16,990, is this the phone for most buyers planning an upgrade this year. Read on to find out.
Design and Display
Gone are the days when American and Korean smartphone makers were the pioneers of this industry. Now, Chinese smartphone makers shape the design and dynamics of this segment. In the past year alone, Chinese smartphone makers such as Huawei, Oppo, Vivo and OnePlus have pushed the envelope in smartphone design and specifications across price points. It is in this area where the Oppo A7 does not disappoint.
The minute you hold this smartphone, you know that you are not dealing with another cheap smartphone. The back of the device feels like glass finish but it is actually not and the surface tapers towards the edge and is textured for a comfortable grip. While it is not a gradient finish in true sense, the texture and use of a different material allows for a change in its hue. Our review unit in gold color tended to shift from gold to green depending on how the light reflected from the surface. The finish is striking for a phone in this price range but there is no option but to use a protective case to avoid drops or slippage from the hand.
Otherwise, we are looking at a standard affair with a horizontally stacked dual rear camera setup with LED flash and a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor. Below the fingerprint sensor, is the Oppo branding which will serve as the reliable differentiator between Oppo and Realme models.
The smartphone crafted out of aluminum chassis lacks any plastic antenna bands and it looks really clean. However, it is not short of inconsistencies. At the bottom end, there is the speaker grille followed by the micro-USB port, another speaker grille and 3.5mm audio jack. While I appreciate Oppo for retaining the 3.5mm headphone jack, that dual speaker grille have different CNC drilled holes and look odd. Oppo could have moved the audio jack to the top, which is bare, and used proper CNC drilling for speaker setup. Otherwise, the power button is on the right while the volume rocker is placed on the left. I particularly like the dual-SIM slot with dedicated microSD card slot.
While the design is pretty good, you are going to spend most of your time looking at the screen. Oppo is using a 6.2-inch display with HD+ resolution of 1520 X 720 pixels and 19:9 aspect ratio here. This isn’t the sharpest or most pixel dense display in this segment but I really found myself wanting for a Full HD+ panel. Every time, I played some kind of YouTube video, I was left disappointed with limited scope of not being able to watch Full-HD videos. The display feels on par with other smartphones in this segment but the notch.
On A7, Oppo is sticking to the waterdrop-style notch and I found it comes more in the way of your experience than a standard notch that takes much more area at the top. Whenever I was scrolling through a web page, I found as if the notch followed down the page. On any given day, I would pick a phone without a notch but they are hard to come by these days. For the time being, this small teardrop notch is the most suitable for consumers.
Performance and Battery Life
We at BGR India recently ran a survey, and found that most consumers favor performance and battery life over any other parameters while deciding their next smartphone. And in that area, the Oppo A7 is a mixed-bag experience.
Let me start with battery life. The A7 is equipped with a 4,230mAh battery and it lasts for days and not hours. I could go for two full days on a single charge, which I was really shocked after being habituated to charging smartphones at least once every day. The large battery is perfectly supported by Oppo’s ColorOS, which does aggressive work in the background to limit power intensive applications. If you want a phone that you charge on Monday and yet use it on Tuesday evening then this one should be on your shortlist.
The impressive battery life, however, is not backed by very strong performance. The Oppo A7 is powered by a Snapdragon 450, an octa-core chipset fabricated using 14nm process coupled with Adreno 506 GPU, 4GB RAM and 64GB storage. While the chip is more efficient than its older siblings fabricated using 28nm process, it lacks the performance punch seen with a decent Snapdragon 600-series CPU. Considering the price, Oppo could have opted for Snapdragon 636 instead, which other players are using right now.
The Oppo A7 runs ColorOS 5.2, a forked UI based on Android 8.1 Oreo with the November security patch. I was surprised to see the latest security patch on a smartphone that launched just last week. In terms of software, Oppo is still following Apple’s iOS in terms of overall appearance. For starters, there is no app drawer and you need to scroll horizontally to see all the apps on the smartphone. When you slide to the left from the home screen, it presents you with a widget screen that looks like a ripoff of what Apple has done on iPhone. Being inspired by something is fine but copying someone’s interface so blatantly is a different thing altogether.
One of the easiest ways to get rid of this scenario is to download Nova launcher and switch to a near-stock feel. I am not saying that this operating system is bad but it has some elements which makes me wonder how it is even acceptable. There is Chrome, which comes standard with every Android install and then Oppo installs its own browser as well as UC browser. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that my new phone comes with three browsers even though I personally will only be using Chrome for all browsing activities. The issue does not end there. The browser pre-loaded by Oppo sends push notifications that range from being useful to downright annoying.
It also comes pre-loaded with apps like Wynk Music, Amazon Shopping, Dailyhunt and Paytm. While you can delete all of them, I would be more than happy if the company did not install them at the factory level. If you want Paytm, all you need to do is go to Play Store and search for the app. You don’t need it to be installed by your smartphone maker.
Another issue is raised where Oppo has added its own app store with almost the same set of key apps as Play Store. There are two icons on the app window called Hot Apps and Hot Games, which are basically window to some of the trending apps and when you click on install, it will directly install those applications. You might want it but I don’t. If I want an app then I know how to get them and this is definitely not one of those methods.
Other than these fundamental issues, I really found Oppo’s skin much more usable than it was two years ago. The UI is much more fluid and even after installing a number of apps, I could navigate through all the app windows swiftly. There is minimal or no noticeable lag at least in the primary user interface. Speaking of UI, the Oppo A7 comes with standard three-way navigation button out of the box. But, you can save space by switching to gesture-based user interface.
Swiping up from anywhere takes you to the home screen while swiping up and pausing allows you to enter the multi-window setup. Swiping from right or left corner lets you go back and let me tell you this, it is as smooth as the gesture interface on newest iPhones and is much faster than Google’s gesture navigation on Pixel smartphones. If Oppo is listening then it should get rid of its fascination for iOS and drop all duplicate apps. This will make its ColorOS a much more acceptable and fluid user interface on Android. For now, it doesn’t feel like this will happen any time soon.
The Oppo A7 comes with a dual-camera setup at the rear covered by a metal enclosure that protrudes to circle the LED flash. This setup looks very similar to that of a SIM ejector and it is quite appealing. The dual camera system includes a 13-megapixel main sensor paired with a 2-megapixel sensor, which helps with both depth effect as well as 2x zoom.
As far as the results are concerned, they are good when you see from an Instagram photographer’s perspective but if analysed deeply then you will see lack of detail and inaccurate color reproduction. One good thing about the dual rear camera setup is it understands the composition really well and with HDR, it manages to retain a lot of detail. In some of the pictures, as you can see in the gallery above, the detail is retained in the background as well as foreground and the software also processes shadows very well. Most budget phones fail to retain shadows and highlights and Oppo A7 does not suffer from that problem.
When it comes to depth, the Oppo A7 struggles with differentiating the foreground from the background. It is also very bad in edge detection. In one of the rear portrait shot in the gallery above, you can see the camera has clipped the hair from the subject’s face, which is a very poor shot. If you buy the Oppo A7 then a lot will depend on your own creativity than with the camera itself.
Watch: How Realme phones are made
The Oppo A7 is priced at Rs 16,990 and while that price might seem fair in the offline space, it just doesn’t cut in the online retail space. For that price, you can get Xiaomi’s excellent Redmi Note 6 Pro with 6GB RAM and a Full HD+ display and also save Rs 1,000. There are also other options such as the Vivo V9 Pro priced at Rs 15,990, which comes with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 chipset. Other options include Nokia 6.1 Plus and Xiaomi Mi A2, which offer stock Android and have received Android Pie updates.
If you have read this far then you already know that Oppo A7 scores really high on areas like design and battery life. But weak points like camera, performance and software loaded with bloatware make it a less appealing smartphone. The offline space may accept such a device purely on its feature set, but users are getting more savvy, educated and accepting of the online space, and such a strategy may not work for much longer. If Oppo cuts the price then I am sure it could be considered but at this price, it is a tough sell in a market where there is a new smartphone launching almost every other week.